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Rickard v. Bunch

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

August 30, 2017



          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge.

         I. Background

         In this civil action, plaintiff Scott Rickard, an Indiana prisoner currently incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash Valley”), alleges that the defendants were deliberately indifferent in their treatment of his terminal heart condition while he was an inmate at the Putnamville Correctional Facility (“Putnamville”).

         Presently pending before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants on May 22, 2017. Dkt. No. 16. Although two defendants, Farrah Bunch and Trina Nickerson, have not appeared in the action, the motion for summary judgment is applicable as to them as well as the moving defendants. See Malak v. Associated Physicians, Inc., 784 F.2d 277, 280 (7th Cir. 1986) (“[W]here one defendant files a motion for summary judgment which the court grants, the district court may sua sponte enter summary judgment in favor of additional non-moving defendants if the motion raised by the first defendant is equally effective in barring the claim against the other defendants and the plaintiff had an adequate opportunity to argue in opposition to the motion.”). The plaintiff filed a response in opposition on June 1, 2017. The defendants replied on June 15, 2017.

         The defendants' motion argues that the claims alleged against them are barred under the exhaustion provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, that requires a prisoner to first exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in court. Mr. Rickard's response argues that the defendants did not follow Indiana Department of Correction policy in resolving his informal grievance. He also claims that defendants repeatedly obstructed the filing of grievances. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment, Dkt. No. 16, is granted.

         II. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A “material fact” is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant's favor. Ault v. Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011).

         “The applicable substantive law will dictate which facts are material.” National Soffit & Escutcheons, Inc., v. Superior Systems, Inc., 98 F.3d 262, 265 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). The substantive law applicable to this motion for summary judgment is the PLRA, which requires that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e; see Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002). “[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Id. at 532 (citation omitted). The requirement to exhaust provides “that no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88-89 (2006) (citation omitted). Exhaustion of available administrative remedies “‘means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).'” Id. at 90 (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002)). Proper use of the facility's grievance system requires a prisoner “to file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time the prison's administrative rules require.” Pozo, 286 F.3d at 1025; see also Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006).

         “At the same time, the [PLRA] requires exhaustion only of remedies that are ‘available.'” King v. McCarty, 781 F.3d 889, 893 (7th Cir. 2015). “Prison officials may not take unfair advantage of the exhaustion requirement, ” and if they do, their conduct can make the remedy process “unavailable.” Dole, 438 F.3d at 809. “Administrative remedies are primarily ‘unavailable' to prisoners where ‘affirmative misconduct' prevents prisoners from pursuing administrative remedies.” Hernandez v. Dart, 814 F.3d 836, 842 (7th Cir. 2016); see Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006) (“[W]hen prison officials prevent inmates from using the administrative process . . . the process that exists on paper becomes unavailable in reality.”).

         Because exhaustion is an affirmative defense, “the burden of proof is on the prison officials.” Kaba, 458 F.3d at 680. So here, the defendants bear the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies before he filed this suit. Id. at 681.

         III. Discussion

         A. Undisputed Facts

         The following statement of facts was evaluated pursuant to the standard set forth above. That is, this statement of facts is not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light reasonably most favorable to Mr. Rickard as the non-moving party with respect to the motion for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         Chris Williams was at all relevant times the Grievance Specialist at Putnamville. As Grievance Specialist, Mr. Williams is responsible for, and the custodian of, all grievances filed by Putnamville offenders. Dkt. 33-1, ¶ 3. Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) Policy and Administrative Procedure 00-02-301, the Offender Grievance Process, is the IDOC policy governing the grievance process and how an offender can exhaust his administrative remedies using that ...

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